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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2009 Estate Tax Value of Minnesota Twins: $24 Million or $293 Million?

TwinsFollowing up on my previous post, Will IRS Strike Out in Estate Tax Litigation Over Valuation of Minnesota Twins?

More than three years after the death of Carl Pohlad, the estate of the billionaire business magnate is mired in a tax dispute with the IRS that has potentially huge financial consequences.

The agency claims that Pohlad’s heirs owe the IRS more than $207 million, largely on the basis of a purportedly low valuation the estate placed on the late patriarch’s most visible asset, the Minnesota Twins. The tax collector also wants $48 million as an “accuracy related penalty” for a total potential tax bill of $255.8 million.

The Pohlad family disputes the IRS position and asserts that the federal agency greatly overvalued Carl Pohlad’s interest in the Twins after he handed most of the control of the ballclub to his sons in the years leading up to his death in 2009. ...

According to the experts hired by the estate, Carl Pohlad’s interest in the Twins was just $24 million at the time of his death in early 2009. The IRS places the value of those assets at $293 million.

The Pohlad estate asserts that Carl Pohlad’s minority ownership of the Twins at the time of his death — with his three sons controlling 90% of the voting shares of the club — is not adequately reflected in the IRS valuation, nor is the Great Recession, which confronted the U.S. economy at the time. ... The Pohlad estate has requested a Tax Court trial in Houston, home of the law firm handling its tax case, Baker Botts. ... At $255.8 million, the dispute would be among the richest pending before the Tax Court. ...

Combined, Carl Pohlad’s financial interest in the Twins was posted at just shy of $24 million, according to the Tax Court petition. The total value of the Twins at the time of Pohlad’s death was estimated at $356 million by Forbes magazine. But [John] Porter, the Baker Botts attorney representing the Pohlads in the IRS matter, said the valuation figures are gross figures that don’t include liabilities such as stadium debt. Moreover, Porter said, the economic environment was not conducive to the sale of sports franchises at the time of Carl Pohlad’s death.

The remarkable story of how the Pohlad family ended up in a nine-figure fight with the Internal Revenue Service over the late Carl Pohlad’s estate isn’t that remarkable at all. It’s called estate planning.

Even though there’s a list of things in dispute with the IRS, including how to treat a block of cemetery plots, this is really all about the chasm between what the IRS thinks Carl Pohlad’s Minnesota Twins ownership stake was worth in January 2009 — $293 million — and the $24 million value the estate’s tax return put on his Twins equity.

Carl Pohlad owned his Twins equity in several pieces. At the time of his death he owned a 52.2% nonvoting interest in MT Sports LLC, which in turn owned a 99%, nonvoting interest in Minnesota Twins LLC. He also owned a 95.5% equity interest in Twins Sports Inc., the managing member of the Minnesota Twins LLC.

In a limited liability company like Minnesota Twins LLC, the managing member is in charge, and usually has authority to borrow money, hire and fire employees and take other actions that the non-managing members have no right to do. But Carl Pohlad owned only 10 percent of Twins Sports’ voting shares, with the rest equally split between Jim and his two brothers.

Sure, there were three separate companies and multiple classes of equity, but as such things go in the ownership of a family business, this structure for the Twins is not particularly artful. What it meant is that at the end of Carl Pohlad’s life, he owned the majority of the franchise but did not control it. ...

Jim Pohlad explained that “you can’t just look up in the Wall Street Journal and figure out the value of things like the Twins,” adding that he and his brothers relied on their valuation experts in wrapping up the estate. ...

When this is settled, the final number won’t be public, but it’s my guess it’s going to be much closer to the position of the Pohlads than the IRS.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2013/07/2009-estate-.html

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